Disease Evolutionary Ecology
We study evolutionary and ecological processes mediated by parasitism in aquatic ecosystems. Parasites are ubiquitous and impose strong selection on their hosts to evolve resistance, while themselves being under strong selection to undermine host defenses. We aim to improve understanding of the interface between host-parasite co-evolution and major ecological processes, under the influence of global environmental change. We focus on questions such as how parasitism contributes to the maintenance of genetic diversity, how it shapes interactions between host and non-host species, and how anticipated environmental challenges will modulate the occurrence of disease.
Our group uses several empirical approaches. Through field studies of natural populations, we are exploring the links between coevolution and genetic diversity, as well as between environmental components and occurrence of disease. Our field sites consist of sets of large permanent lakes, representing a gradient of environmental conditions. Specifically, we track genetic changes in populations and communities over both time and space (employing molecular approaches, e.g. next-generation-sequencing). Another component of our research involves laboratory experiments (single-generation experiments, as well as long-term surveys in microcosms). As a main model organism, we have concentrated on the crustacean Daphnia, which is well-established in ecological, evolutionary and genomic research, and is a key component of aquatic food webs. In addition, we study various phytoplankton species and their natural fungal (chytrid) parasites.
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